No Remorse is the third Kent Fisher mystery and unique in many ways.
The first two books in the series, No Accident and No Bodies were originally conceived, planned in detail and written between 2000 and 2003. They were extensively revised and rewritten for publication in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but the story and characters didn’t change.
No Remorse was the first new Kent Fisher mystery I’d written in thirteen years. It was a chance to write a new novel from scratch, utilising everything I’d learned in between. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.
So, what did I learn?
- I could write without a detailed synopsis or plan
I started No Remorse with a desire to show what the bad side of residential care homes might look like, and an opening line of dialogue – ‘They’re going to kill me, Mr Fisher, but they’ll never learn my secret.’
That’s it. I had no idea how the story would develop or if it would work. I had the character of Anthony Trimble, who had a secret I knew nothing about, and a luxury care home with unscrupulous owners.
To keep things fresh, Kent Fisher wasn’t at work when he visited the home. He was there with Columbo, his West Highland white terrier, as part of a Pets as Therapy scheme. When Mr Trimble dies without relatives, environmental health arranges a funeral. This brings Kent back to the words Mr Trimble uttered at the start of the novel. From here, Kent starts to follow Trimble’s life back into the past to unearth a terrible secret and expose his killer.
With no synopsis, the story was written chapter by chapter, each one prompting the events and actions of the next. As a result I kept the chapters short, which really improved the pace of the novel.
It turned out to be the most exhilarating journey of my writing career.
- How private investigators track down people
After Trimble’s death I had the problem of looking into his past, what he did and so on. Tracking someone down is a basic private detective function, but I didn’t know where to start.
Google came to the rescue and the answer really was quite obvious. If you know where someone lives, talk to the neighbours. If you know what someone did for a living, talk to colleagues.
People may not realise how well-connected environmental health officers are. They visit many businesses and have information on them all. Once Trimble was located in the department’s database, Kent was on his way, opening up one can of worms after another. He traced former homes and businesses, spoke to the local rector and asked around in the pub – like a good detective.
- The value of the right editor
I changed editor for No Remorse, based on the recommendation of a fellow crime author. Through only the medium of emails, we hit it off right away. I felt confident she would provide good service and value, which she did.
Her insights and understanding allowed me to make small, but significant changes to improve the story. As all my novels have a strong backstory with familiar characters, the main murder plot can be pushed into the background from time to time. My editor suggested Kent could still be thinking about the murders while doing other things to make sure the murder investigation remained at the forefront.
- How to surprise readers (and my editor)
I wish I could reveal the surprise that stunned many readers, but that would spoil the story for those who want to read it. My editor didn’t see it coming, as she put it, and loved the surprise. Many readers told me how they were surprised, shocked and stunned, but they loved the moment and thought it was one the best parts of the story.
Writing the story a chapter at a time, I knew little about the surprise until just before it happened. I had to go back and do some rewriting as a result, but it was worth it.
- How to write the novel I always wanted to write
No Remorse is the murder mystery novel I always wanted to write. It has elements of Agatha Christie with its cryptic codes and messages, and Kinsey Millhone, my favourite fictional private eye.
All these elements came to me as I wrote. I thought I’d be sitting there, wondering what to write next. Far from it. The ideas kept coming and at the end of every chapter, I lobbed in a complication, determined to make Kent Fisher’s investigation as difficult as it could be, and then some.
This is the way I now write the Kent Fisher novels, starting with minimal information and ideas. I discover what happens pretty much at the same time as Kent (or while I’m shaving) and go with it. Sometimes I have to backtrack a little and revise, but mainly it’s spontaneous until I start to solve the mystery.
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